Priests oppose reinstating of Indian cardinal, call for papal intervention

Papal intervention has been sought over disputed Vatican reinstatement of controversy-plagued Cardinal George Alencherry
Priests oppose reinstating of Indian cardinal, call for papal intervention

A file image of Indian Cardinal George Alencherry outside St. Peter's basilica after being appointed by the pope during the consistory on Feb. 18, 2012. (Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP) reporter, Kochi
July 3, 2019
Pope Francis' intervention has been sought to end a deepening crisis in India's Eastern Rite Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.

This came as more than 250 priests defied a decision of the Vatican's Oriental Congregation to reinstate Cardinal George Alencherry as their archbishop.

The priests of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, the seat of the major archbishop of the Kerala state-based Church, gathered July 2 and refused to accept his return.

"From Pope Francis, who takes a firm stand for truth and justice, we expect a lasting solution for the issues facing the archdiocese," they said a statement.

The cardinal was removed from administrative responsibilities of the archdioceses a year ago following a public allegation by priests that he sold off land that incurred a loss of US$10 million for the archdiocese.

The priests now say that a crisis of faith emerged in the Church when on June 26 the Oriental Congregation reinstated the cardinal without providing any explanation for what they regarded as “moral decadence” linked to the land deal.

The clerics said “even ordinary faithful” doubt the morality of reinstating the cardinal.

The Oriental Congregation also suspended his two assistants; Bishops Sebastian Adayanthrath and Jose Puthenveetil from their auxiliary bishop posts, without publicly giving any reasons for doing so.

This lack of a reason has been "condemned" by the priests.

Church sources said the suspension punishes the two bishops for being supportive of the priests, rather than of the cardinal.

The Oriental Congregation asked that the next synod of the local Church decide on their future roles.

Vatican faked document?

Father Jose Vailikodath, a spokesperson for the priests, told that the Oriental congregation "faked the documents" without the knowledge of Pope Francis and there had been no direct official announcement from the Vatican yet on reinstating the cardinal or of the suspension of the auxilliary bishops.

The official announcement from national bishops' conference had referred only to Pope Francis asking Apostolic Administrator Bishop Jacob Manathodath of Palghat to go back to his diocese as his term of office had ended.

"We have no other information,” said Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios, the vice-president of the national bishops' conference. Other decisions were left to the synod of the Syro-Malabar Church, he added.

The Vatican need not issue an announcement on the cardinal taking back the administrative responsibilities as his powers were not suspended last year, according to an explanatory note from the synod. It was only that an administrator was appointed "sede plena", or temporarily, the note stated.

When the administrator's term ends, the cardinal automatically became the administrator of the archdiocese, the synod maintained.

The Vatican suspended the bishops based on studies, reports, and probes using sources and other means available to it, said the synod explanatory note.

A Catholic canon law expert on the Latin rite in Kerala commented: "The message is very simple but strong. The Church will not tolerate public dissent from its people, more so from priests and a bishop."

He said the Oriental Congregation was "fully competent" in suspending the auxiliary bishops in consultation with the pope.

He also noted that Congregation's letter clearly projects the decisions as being of Pope Francis by stating that “these decisions of the Roman Pontiff were taken” after the congregation had studied a report submitted by the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.

However, Vailikodath said the priests are not convinced Pope Francis was aware of the moral issues involved and that the announced decisions effectively bypassed him.

He said most of the 450 priests are opposed to the decision and 251 of them attending the meeting sought Vatican intervention. He said they have communicated their grievances to all levels of the hierarchy, including Pope Francis.

Of the 450 priests, 60 are in old-age homes, another 100 are working outside the archdiocese and about 30 could not attend the meeting because of urgent other engagements, he said.

Another priest, who did not want to be named, said there was no trust in the capacity of the synod to decide outstanding issues, adding that the Vatican intervened after the synod failed to resolve the local divisions for more than a year.

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